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Friday, June 18, 2010

ROAD KILL -- movie review by porfle

[Note: Fangoria magazine has teamed up with Lightning Media and Blockbuster for a series of eight horror/thrillers which will be available exclusively on DVD, VOD, and digital download Sept. 28 under the "Fangoria FrightFest" banner. This film is part of that series.]

Two young couples motoring across the long, lonesome highways of the Australian Outback are menaced by a massive double-sized tractor-trailer rig known as a "road train" (the film's original title) in 2010's ROAD KILL, a fairly effective horror-thriller that takes a different route than you might expect. 

The premise immediately brought two movies to my mind upon first viewing.  One is Steven Spielberg's classic made-for-TV thriller DUEL, in which Dennis Weaver plays a harried salesman whose tiny car is the prey for a crazed trucker in the middle of nowhere.  Yet another Aussie thriller, ROAD GAMES, is also set in the Outback and features a trucker (Stacy Keach) and a comely young hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis) in a cat-and-mouse game with a traveling serial killer. 

But just when I'm thinking ROAD KILL is going to be a rehash of these two plots, it decides to go somewhere else entirely.  The two couples--Craig and Nina, and Marcus and Liz, who have a history of jealousy and rivalry simmering below the surface of their fragile friendship--are run off the road by the roaring behemoth just when we think we're at the start of a long chase sequence.  This is the last such scene we'll see until much later in the film when there's one more high-speed clash between truck and automobile.

Climbing out of the wreckage with Craig (Bob Morley) badly injured, they stumble along until they find the road train parked by the side of the highway with nobody in it.  They get in just as a crazy man emerges from the bushes blasting away at them with a pistol, and Marcus manages to get the thing moving.  Lulled by hours of monotonous motion, they drop off to sleep--even Marcus seems to doze at the wheel as the truck continues to rumble onward.  Suddenly it stops, and they awaken to find that Marcus has accidentally turned off onto a side road and gotten them lost.  Or...was the truck acting on its own?

Yes, with our four main characters now stranded in the wilderness, ROAD KILL becomes a haunted truck story.  While a bitterly quarreling Marcus (Xavier Samuel, TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE) and Liz (Georgina Haig) strike out for the main highway on foot, Craig and Nina begin to sense a pervasive evil eminating from those two locked containers.  I'll skip the details of what follows, but it includes possession, betrayal, and the horrific discovery of what's really going on inside that damned truck.  Meanwhile, Marcus and Liz have some pretty shocking experiences of their own before they make it back just in time to get in on the gory fun.

Dean Francis' capable direction (this is his first feature) keeps the suspense pretty taut considering that most of the movie consists of four characters and a truck.  Good performances by the cast help to put over a script that often doesn't make a whole lot of sense (and doesn't really try to), with Sophie Lowe as Nina carrying most of the acting load and giving us at least one character we can identify with who isn't a total jerk.  She even gets to drive that damned truck when they finally get it back out on the highway for the exciting gear-grinding conclusion.

I watched a screener so DVD specs were unavailable. lists the special features as "audio commentary by director Dean Francis, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, the 8 FANGORIA FRIGHTS cable special and the eight FrightFest trailers."  One thing's for sure--if the nerve-wracking soundtrack for this flick doesn't threaten to jar your skull right out of your head, you've got stronger ears than I have.

I'm not sure how rewatchable ROAD KILL will be once you've slowly and patiently peeled the onion away from its mysterious core, but that first time was definitely enough to maintain a firm grip on my attention span.  And I now have an interesting new mental image for the term "monster truck." 

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